During this legislative session, New Mexico leaders have the opportunity to make a critical investment in our state’s children through Senate Bill 32, Outdoor Learning Program Funding, sponsored by Senator Siah Correa Hemphill. Outdoor learning is a common-sense, bipartisan solution to supporting healthier children, schools and communities during the pandemic and beyond. Outdoor teaching and learning reduces the transmission of COVID-19 and provides many other benefits for the health and well-being of our children.
Currently, there is no widespread system for allowing New Mexico’s more than 300,000 students to learn outdoors. Through SB 32, we could transform our current education system to take advantage of our wonderful climate and bring outdoor learning year-round by establishing an outdoor learning program at the NM Department of Public Education. . This statewide program would provide teacher support and professional development in delivering high-quality outdoor instruction, lessons and other materials, as well as resources for building classrooms. outdoor classrooms on school grounds across the state.
Outdoor learning is a flexible, evidence-based strategy that educators can use to deliver the same lesson they planned to do indoors, or it can involve integrating the local area to improve the student learning. When outdoor classrooms are available on campus, teachers can easily and efficiently take advantage of the many beautiful weather days in the Land of Enchantment to bring their students to the schoolyard to learn and practice. enjoy the many health and educational benefits. There are also hundreds of off-campus programs across New Mexico offered by organizations and state agencies to provide enriching and engaging experiences for children in the outdoors. The outdoor learning program created by this bill will connect teachers to established and new outdoor learning opportunities.
In a 2018 study by Ardoin et al. from Stanford University, more than 2,000 publications were reviewed and 119 articles were analyzed for K-12 student outcomes over a 20-year period, and researchers found overwhelming evidence of the benefits outdoor and environmental learning. Students who participate regularly benefit from: improved physical, emotional, social and spiritual health and well-being; improved academic skills, including critical thinking and problem solving; better academic success; increased motivation and enthusiasm to learn; and increased ties to their community.
To ensure that all New Mexican children can enjoy these benefits, New Mexico Environmental Education brought together more than 200 people representing more than 90 groups across the state and 17 EENM Fellows to create a vision and a shared strategy, the first of its kind in the country. , entitled “Every child, every day, for everyone”. This framework provides a pathway for systemic change to support equitable daily access to outdoor and environmental learning for all students in the state. SB 32 is in direct response to the recommendations of this community-generated plan.
We call on our leaders to stand with our children and pass SB 32 in the next legislative session. Our children deserve healthier learning opportunities and stronger academic gains, and our communities also deserve to experience reduced transmission of COVID-19.
Senator Siah Correa Hemphill has been an educator for over 28 years. Environmental Education of New Mexico is a nonprofit organization that works to ensure that every New Mexican child has equitable access to environmental and outdoor learning. The Wild Friends Program is an experiential civics and science education program for New Mexico youth based at UNM School of Law.